In handing down his findings on the conduct of authorities in the December 2014 Lindt cafe siege, New South Wales coroner Michael Barnes was critical of the contribution of the psychiatrist (name suppressed) retained by NSW Police as an adviser at the scene. Among the criticisms of the psychiatrist’s actions that night, was that he provided flawed advice on the management of the siege that had a malign influence in tactical decisions that were instrumental to the tragic conclusion. The media coverage of this aspect of the coroner’s findings emphasises the psychiatrist as being hopelessly out of his depth and over-stepping his remit.
The psychiatrist involved is a well-respected and highly experienced physician, whose clinical skills, professional judgement and ethical practice are without question. This situation was not, in any way, a case of a bumbling incompetent out of his depth. It is, however, a spectacular illustration of the culture’s unhealthy idealisation of psychiatry’s capacity to predict and, ultimately, mitigate risk.